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Learning from history

War as a dynamic and preparation: Learning from history

Whilst the factors mentioned will not always be in place with the same stringency as currently and it is presupposed that the CCP will actively address and moderate the problems that are thrown up by its transition and ongoing utilisation of globalisation as a tour de force in the twenty-first century. The CCP will become more adept over time per se and therefore, become more inclined to actually reinforce its preponderance with threat-of-force and direct force when and where necessary. Within the paradigm ascribed, it will subsequently be able to adequately handle domestic ructions should they occur, and (eventually) be able to accommodate more than one mid-intensity conflict in terms of capabilities. The question that is thrown up by this acknowledgement is how will Taiwan be impacted? The CCP will, after issuing a decree and through the auspices of the duty of all Chinese ‘to accept that the welfare of the motherland comes above all other concerns ’[1]—which is an edict that has been in place since the 1980s—and it will be at the core of creating an outright conflict with Taiwan with the backing of the Chinese people. The war of rivalry that is in place will extend to a kinetic war or as specified, a ‘shooting war.’ China however, will not confront Taiwanese forces directly as the CCP remains interested in expansionism and empire-building whilst it has declared war on Taiwan—one is not therefore, mutually exclusive of the other. As stipulated there may be some war-at-a-distance exchanges (missile attacks) and without doubt vastly increased air and nautical-placements which will involve losses on both sides. China however, will deliberately step back from significant and ongoing confrontations and revert to what the British accomplished in their quest to rule the world as Taiwan represents a target that is incredibly vulnerable to this tactic and strategy. An historical perspective of what China will attempt to utilise is summed up in the British ‘model’ of using an ‘indirect strategy,’[2] followed by a ‘limited war exhaustion strategy.’[3] Thus

The British practice of warfare from the sixteenth century to World War 1 was to employ … [a] way of war [which] de-emphasised direct confrontation, concentration, mass, and battle and emphasised surprise, mobility, manoeuvre, peripheral attacks on the enemy weaknesses, dispersion, conversion of resources, and negotiated settlements. War was to be conducted in a “businesslike” manner and was to be profitable. The British used sea power primarily to achieve their limited strategic objectives. They traditionally fought low-expenditure, high-gain wars that took advantage of Britain’s geographic circumstances that exploited those of its enemy. The British way of war was to destroy when possible the enemy’s fleet; attack enemy trade; block the enemy’s coast and conduct raids on the enemy’s ports, coastal towns and colonies; seize, when possible, the enemy’s colonies; subsidise allies on the Continent; wait for the attacks on the enemy’s economy and peripheral areas to erode its capacity to resist; exploit opportunities through the use of surprise made possible by the superior mobility of the fleet; deploy limited expeditionary forces on the Continent to fight alongside the larger forces of the allies; and finally, to manoeuvre the enemy into an untenable position in which it had no other option but to conclude a peace agreement on terms set by the British and their allies.[4]

With the aforementioned in place the deterrent for China is ensconced within the Taiwanese population. To date, an unmovable cultural inculcation of being an independent country—regardless of the Treaty parameters—is one that will be defended by the Taiwanese people; and will at some point in the future have to be confronted by threat-of-force followed by direct force should the threat not decrease the independence stance. China will have to come to terms with this and employ a war with the strictures mentioned intact, and allow the timeline to be exploited. It is within this time—possibly over a year in duration—that principal- and peripheral-allies will be exposed. It is at this point that the US can be reintroduced into the milieu of the A-P (Asia-Pacific). There is within the argument of allies that offers a minor advantage for Taiwan—whether the overt support that was granted by Bush in 2001 remains robust, or has been downgraded. To understand why Taiwan was given such momentous support during this time needs a brief analysis in order to extrapolate upon the current and future dilemma for Taiwan

The strategic place that Taiwan held in the early-twenty-first century and the reason President George W. Bush exclaimed the US would do ‘whatever it took’ to help defend Taiwan[5] was for several poignant reasons above and beyond the regional strategic ‘worth’ of Taiwan per se. The relevant reasons comprise although are not limited to an understanding that China had begun to build up its military; stymieing the Russian Federation’s newfound A-P ambitions in the post-Cold War environment; the US’ recent failings in Somalia attempting to retard the warlord Aideed’s[6] activities; an inability to disentangle from the Balkans Conflict; and of critical importance, an attempt to purge the Clinton administration’s failings and of reinvigorating US posturing through the praxis of The Project for a New American Century (PNAC).[7] These are some of the major reasons for the US focusing on Taiwan; and its relevance to US-Taiwan relations.

The discontent of others and the impact on the Asia-Pacific

Since 2001 however, there has not been the same level of commitment as other politico-issues have begun to percolate through the US’ view of the world and its commitments toward Taiwan began to falter. For a myriad of reasons, trade wars, Afghanistan, immigration and NATO disputes, and fragile EU-US relations—the US domestic population began to embrace ‘Americanism not Globalism’[8] which is most vibrant in the current Trump administration. The ‘Americanism’ referred to, which is essentially ‘isolationism’ has its roots in US history and especially when international ventures receive military or economic ‘pushback’ from other actors—and this should be duly noted; and taken into account in Taiwan-China relations as the previously stipulated ‘knock-on’ effect does not augur well for Taiwan per se. There is an historical precedence for this actuality and because it has relevance in contemporary times it needs mentioning in order to align the argument. The evidence for a reverting to isolationism resides in what was and the power of the US’ transition

[The US’] [e]xceptional geographic bounty enabled, even mandated, a grand strategy of isolationism from other quarters. The United States did experiment with a broader imperialism in 1898, colonizing the Philippines and taking hold of Hawaii and a number of other Pacific islands, and it intervened in Europe in World War 1. But these episodes provoked a sharp backlash and consolidated the stubborn isolationism of the interwar decades.[9]

The immediate effects of the policies alluded to should they continue down the current pathway must result in a downgrading of support for Taiwan. There is a strong possibility of the continued support of its independence status, becoming more neutral as US xenophobia increases; and this will be made worse should the US have to contend with Central and South American disputes[10] which will invariably have an impact on domestic voting blocs and drive a stronger move toward isolationism. The US focus on the A-P must diminish if the immense issues collide and cause internal frictions (as has been the case in Europe[11]), albeit Europe in general not having the option of single border closure as a reaction. To be sure, Taiwan should not expect a forthright announcement of complete and absolute support—there will be no ‘whatever it takes’ pledge in the globalised twenty-first century. Future attempts associated with US’ support will be veiled in more general terms, which has been proffered recently as

“The aim of U.S. policy is to ensure that Taiwan’s people can continue along their chosen path, free from coercion,” the official, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong, said at the banquet in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, as President Tsai Ing-wen looked on. Speaking to 700 people, including representatives of top American companies and senior Taiwanese officials, at an American Chamber of Commerce function, Mr. Wong said the United States wanted “to strengthen our ties with the Taiwan people and to bolster Taiwan’s ability to defend its democracy.”[12]

Herein there is an adjustment of policy which any liberal-democratic nation-state is free to undertake as sovereignty allows for the populace’s freedom of opinion. From the perspective of the US the key is in the wording which essentially prescribes increasing ‘Taiwan’s ability to protect its country.’ This statement effectively excludes US’ involvement beyond the parameters it sets, and can be further interpreted as a pending quasi-isolationist pronouncement—one that does not mirror the ‘pivot to Asia’ of the Obama administration and reflects the ‘Americanism’ alluded to, and that it has ‘done enough’ for an ‘unappreciative world.’ What Taiwan faces from 2018 onwards is a complex triad: the rise of China, a withdrawing cum isolationist US; and a paradoxical situation of losing allies which makes it more reliant on the US.[13] Acknowledging this will be a process dependent upon the subsequent rate of the ‘rise’ of China, and the rate of disinclination to be involved in A-P machinations between Taiwan-China relations however it will become more critical for Taiwan as the twenty-first century enters the third decade. Where should Taiwan focus its efforts to reflect the peoples autonomy; prevent a war happening and should kinetic action take place how to moderate that action? As has been stipulated, this thesis is predicated on a war taking place and therefore assumes that a war will be declared by China in order to regain its territory. In the build up to war it will be critical for Taiwan to exercise its gains and temper the coming encounters. How should this be accomplished?

Other countries in the A-P do not have the capacity to be involved in a shooting war beyond patrolling their littoral-waters, air-space and territories, although they will form politico-blocs that will indulge in commentaries on China; and make observations within the UN. Beyond this, the portent will be one of reacting to rather than making demands on China—as per the US in post-WWII, and Britain and France in the two centuries prior. Australia and Japan do not have independent foreign policy objectives toward Taiwan and a war with China would not extend to unilateral or bilateral actions of these two actors. Australia and Japan, although both are regional middle powers it is safe to argue, have unsophisticated and parochial foreign policies in the A-P and do not (to date) express exigencies beyond the remit of US foreign policy prerequisites. Thus, Taiwan should not rely on Australian and Japanese assets—unless the US enters the conflict and demands support. The Taiwanese government and the Taiwanese people need recognise a salient, observable and pivotal fact—as should other A-P actors—that the only country the US is completely and utterly committed to militarily and to a considerable extent economically—the legal commitments to NATO as per 2018 notwithstanding—is, and remains, Israel. The reasons the US adopts this stance toward Israel are moot and need not be entered into here, suffice to state that it has been standard US post-1948 practice and remains vibrant.[14] Thus, Taiwan is of peripheral concern regardless of machinations within the US Congress[15] and the US’ direct involvement will be dependent upon, and as has been stipulated, numerous globalised and historical happenings and dictums. With the aforementioned in mind and based on the predication that a war is inevitable it is now appropriate to forecast a Taiwan-China war; and offer a continuum of evidence; and observations.

Continued tomorrow … China and its approach to war

Previous instalment … The direction a war will ‘take’


[1] Christopher Hughes. Chinese Nationalism in the Global Era. London: Routledge, 2006, 21.

[2] Basil Liddell-Hart. When Britain Goes to War: Adaptability and Mobility. London: Faber and Faber, 1932, 29-42.

[3] Omaha Beach: A Flawed Victory, 34-35.

[4] Omaha Beach: A Flawed Victory, 34-35.

[5] David Sanger. ‘U.S. Would Defend Taiwan, Bush Says.’ The New York Times. 26 Apr, 2001.

[6] For a succinct explanation of the situation in Somalia. See: ‘Blackhawk Down: The Somalis battle that changed US Policy in Africa.’ BBCNews. 1 Feb, 2017.

[7] The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) centres on American foreign policy being ‘adrift,’ and that America’s ‘place in the world,’ that of being a forthright, and if need be intrusive actor, in order to reinstate US authority then so be it. The PNAC has many contributors although the directors are William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Bruce Jackson, Mark Gerson, and Randy Scheunemann. The project was established in Spring,1997 and is an initiative of the New Citizenship Project. See: Project for the New American Century.

[8] The possible outcomes of the ‘America First’ mantra of the Trump administration are complex and due to many ongoing reasons, including the problematics deep within the US voting system and the representations of States in Congress. This stipulated, a succinct explanation of the polity of the Trump administration see: James Curran. ‘“Americanism not Globalism.” President Trump and the American Mission.’ Lowy Institute. 3 Jul, 2018.

[9] Charles Kupchan, ‘The Future of American Exceptionalism.’ Foreign Affairs. Edited by Gideon Rose. Vol 7, 92, March/April 2018, 140.

[10] For a brief though succinct analysis of immigration and the similarities and reasons of migration as a problem. See: Ananda Taub and Max Fisher. ‘The U.S and Europe, Migration Conflict Points to Deeper Political Problems.’ The New York Times. 29 Aug, 2018.

[11] The U.S and Europe, Migration Conflict Points to Deeper Political Problems.’ The New York Times. 29 Aug, 2018.

[12] Chris Horton. ‘In Taiwan, U.S. Official Says Commitment ‘Has Never Been Stronger/’ New York Times. 21 Mar, 2018. Emphasis added.

[13] Ralph Jennings. ‘Taiwan Relies More On US After the Loss of Diplomatic Allies.’ Voice of America. 4 May, 2018.

[14] For an example of US commitment to Israel. See: Whitney Webb. ‘US Military Aid to Israel Set To Exceed $3.8B, Or $23,000 Per Year For Every Jewish Family Living In Israel.’ MPNNews. 3 Aug, 2018.

[15] Patricia Zengerle. ‘U.S. senator plans measure to help Taiwan keep its allies.’ Reuters. 24 Aug, 2018.

Strobe Driver completed his PhD in war studies in 2011 and since then has written extensively on war, terrorism, Asia-Pacific security, the ‘rise of China,’ and issues within Australian domestic politics. Strobe is a recipient of Taiwan Fellowship 2018, MOFA, Taiwan, ROC, and is an adjunct researcher at Federation University.


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